Microsoft has announced it will add the ability to control Windows with your eyes to an upcoming mainstream version of the OS, and a Windows Insider build containing the capability is already available. This new capability has been in the works since 2014, when former NFL player Steve Gleason challenged Microsoft to come up with a control method that would help individuals with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) or other forms of paralysis at its first annual hackathon.
Gleason, who suffers from ALS, wanted a way to control Windows that didn’t require him to use a mouse or keyboard. While Windows contains tools meant to help those who are physically disabled, its offerings are largely confined to technology to help the blind or deaf. If you want a screen reader or magnification option, MS has you covered already. If you have problems with fine motor control or are paralyzed, you’d be looking at third-party options that bolt on to Windows rather than Windows itself.
“I realized pretty quickly after my diagnosis that technology would have to become an extension of myself. Until there is a medical cure for ALS, technology will be that cure,” Steve said.
The winner of Microsoft’s 2014 Hackathon was a project spurred by Gleason’s request, the Eye Gaze Wheelchair, created by a hacking team called Ability Eye Gaze. The EGW allowed Gleason to drive his wheelchair based on which control he was looking at on his Microsoft Surface, but that short project was only the beginning of Microsoft’s research. Microsoft has partnered with Tobii to bring what Redmond calls Eye Control to Windows 10 and the feature will require an eye-tracking system like the Tobii 4C to function.
Assuming you have the Tobii 4C peripheral in question, it can detect whether you are at your PC (putting the system into sleep or low power modes if not), stay awake if you’re at the system, can interface with a touchpad (for users who can control at least one finger), and includes features like scroll-at-gaze, zoom-at-gaze, and can “warp” the mouse cursor to your desired location. Tobii’s own website has further details on what it’s software can handle.
Microsoft hasn’t publicly stated yet whether it will add support for other manufacturers’ hardware, and we don’t know when this feature will appear in mainstream Windows 10 builds. It could be scheduled to debut with the Fall Creators Update, or it could be included in a later edition of the OS. Either way, one of the most important aspects of technology is its ability to improve the lives of those struggling with disabilities ranging from partial paralysis to diseases like ALS. Good on Microsoft for taking steps to integrate this kind of assistive technology into Windows 10.
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